Funerals have changed quite a bit over the years. The tradition of embalming and viewing the deceased’s body gained popularity in the US when Abraham Lincoln passed in 1865. However, the popularity of funeral ceremonies with open caskets is in a state of decline for a number of reasons.
Open casket funerals are not common in 2022, and their popularity is waning. According to the NFDA, people are increasingly less religious about funeral ceremonies, and cremation rates will grow to 78.4% in all US deaths by 2040. Only 27% of these cremations will include open casket preparation.
The National Funeral Directors (NFDA) association reports that burials, in general, are on the decline, and embalming and open casket funerals are becoming rare. More than a reaction to the COVID-19 crisis, the rites associated with burial ceremonies will continue to become less common for a variety of reasons. Here’s a guide to open casket funerals, their pros and cons, and why they are no longer common across the globe.
Why Would Someone Choose an Open Casket Funeral?
Someone would choose an open casket funeral because they give a person the chance to see and touch their loved ones one last time before the burial. Open caskets are also part of religious and cultural traditions that loved ones are expected to follow.
Open casket funerals and religious funerals, in general, are on the wane in popularity. However, open caskets still remain traditional in some faiths, such as Roman Catholicism and Orthodox churches. We will discuss the potential benefits of an open casket funeral below.
Visual and Physical Goodbye
One of the biggest reasons that open casket funerals are still popular is because they allow family and friends to say goodbye to the deceased while seeing them. Sure, you can look at pictures or a closed casket that you know they’re in, but there’s something more powerful about saying goodbye to a loved one that you can see.
Open casket funerals give those close to the deceased a way to see their loved one resting and seemingly at peace. While this may be disturbing for some, many people could benefit from seeing their loved ones resting peacefully. Not only does it allow people to remain calm, but it can also lead loved ones to believe that the deceased is at peace in death.
Open casket funerals also present a unique opportunity for multi-sensory contact with the deceased. Not only can you see your lost loved one, but you can touch and even smell them. This physical contact is an integral part of the grieving process for many people and can’t be achieved in a closed casket funeral or in the case of cremation.
Made to Look Their Best
During the embalming process, morticians work hard to ensure that your loved one looks their best for an open casket funeral. The mortician conducts the embalming process and the specialized makeup to simulate the deceased’s appearance in real life. This appearance of life bestows the loved ones a sense of the immediate presence of their late loved one.
If you spend time with your loved one toward the end of their life, you may notice that their appearance will start to deteriorate. As the body begins the process of death, bodily processes will start to slow down. You may notice that your loved one looks tired. They may also look frail as their digestive system will slow down, making it hard to eat.
The dying process can make grief much more difficult because we often watch our loved ones deteriorate in front of us as the end comes. So, seeing them at the funeral one last time looking more healthy can be comforting after watching the death process. Morticians will ensure they have color in their cheeks and look as healthy as possible.
The legs of the deceased are usually covered, you can learn why on this page.
Sometimes when planning something as devastating as a funeral, we go with what we know. Familiarity can be comforting during tough times. So, we may revert to traditions that we are familiar with during processes such as death. The familiarity of ritual is a common reason why many traditions are kept through generations, especially when it comes to funerals.
As discussed above, open-casket funerals gained popularity in the US after the death and embalming of Abraham Lincoln. However, viewing the bodies of deceased relatives as a way to say goodbye isn’t so recent. Long before the embalming process was so mainstream, it was common for relatives to keep the bodies of the deceased in their homes until the burial.
During this time, family and friends would visit with the deceased’s family and say goodbye to the deceased, much as we do now with funerals and viewings. Without the help of chemicals to preserve the bodies, families would surround their loved ones with candles to help cover the smell of decomposition while they grieved and said their goodbyes.
Before the smell of decomposition got too bad, the family would have a casket built for the deceased and hold a burial for them. This vigil or wake was where everyone would gather again and say their final goodbyes. Since then, we have regulated the embalming process to allow the deceased’s body to last longer.
The tradition of viewing the deceased’s body to say goodbye has been around for many years, and we carry it on today with open-casket funerals.
Why Would Some Choose Not to Have an Open Casket Funeral?
Someone may choose not to have an open-casket funeral because of increased costs, delayed funeral service, the cause of death, or religious and cultural reasons. As the importance of religion declines in modern society, so has the tradition of funeral ceremonies such as open casket viewings.
Although open casket traditions are strong in those with religious and cultural traditions, the modern movement is toward a more secular funeral service. For many non-religious people who have not experienced an open casket service, the process may be deeply disturbing, as I experienced at the funeral of a young friend.
There are several other pertinent reasons why the public seems to be turning away from these elaborate funeral rituals as follows.
Higher Cost Than Cremation
According to the NFDA, the median costs of a funeral have risen by 6.6% over the last five years, and cremation prices have increased by 11.3% in the same time. However, cremation is still a more economical option at $6,970 vs. the $7,848 cost for a funeral with viewing and burial. As religious traditions decline, many don’t feel that extra expenses are worthwhile.
The expectations of society have also changed in terms of what is considered ‘proper’ in a burial ceremony. Once a standard funeral procedure, open caskets now pose an extra cost for a procedure that is no longer the norm in terms of burial traditions. Embalming is a costly process for the short time that the deceased will be in view of the public.
Delayed Funeral Date
Sometimes it’s not possible to schedule a funeral as quickly as people may like. This delay means that sometimes a body will be too far into decomposition for an open casket funeral to be an option. Sure, funeral homes can preserve bodies, but there’s still a limit on the amount of time they can be preserved and still be presentable enough for an open casket service.
Funeral directors will often recommend a closed casket service as the preservation window for dead bodies is small for delayed funerals. An embalmed and refrigerated body can last about two weeks before it reaches stages of decomposition, too striking for an open casket funeral.
People may need to delay funeral services for all kinds of reasons. First, you need to give family and friends time to get time off, find babysitters, and make other arrangements to attend a service. Lots of out-of-town family members can lead to a delayed service.
Sometimes, the funeral may coincide with birthdays, weddings, graduation, or other events that can’t be moved or canceled. So, often funerals need to be planned around other important life events to ensure all family members can attend. These situations can lead to delayed funerals as they’re usually unexpected.
Cause of Death
The cause of death is another possible reason for a closed casket funeral. As discussed, morticians work hard to ensure that the deceased look their best for a funeral, but there are limits to what a mortician can achieve with a deceased’s body.
If your loved one suffered from an illness that significantly affected their body, then you may not want to have an open-casket service. An open casket service idea is to remember the deceased looking as they once looked in life. Sometimes, the effects of illnesses can leave the body looking too different from how the family wants to remember them.
Illness isn’t the only cause for concern. Other circumstances in the death of a loved one may lead to a compromised body condition that can not be hidden in a funeral. Some injuries can lead to family members being even more devastated by the loss because they see the effects of the event on their loved ones. Loss of limb or other changes can be too much for some.
In these situations, it’s best to speak with the funeral director or mortician directly to see what options are available to you. Some imperfections can be worked around and are barely noticeable, but there are limitations to their craft. So, make sure you have a conversation with the appropriate party before deciding on open or closed casket services.
If you wonder whether a child should view an open casket, make sure to read this page that will answer this question in great detail.
Open Casket Funerals Require More Attention
Another essential factor to consider for open casket funerals is that the body will require attention. With the body of a loved one exposed to everyone in attendance, the close family may feel as if they need to protect their loved one’s body from any potential accidents.
Rather than focusing on their grief, families may be more worried about ensuring their loved one’s body isn’t bothered by children or careless family members. Others may cause the body to fall, try to take pictures, spill items in the casket, or comment on how the deceased looks.
Religion and Culture
Sometimes closed casket funerals are held for religious and cultural reasons. Whether it’s a family tradition that caskets remain closed for the service or religious reasons, there will always be different ways to handle the death of a loved one.
Many religions believe in closed casket funerals. Judaism is one example of a religion that requires a closed casket service as they believe that seeing a dead body can bring bad luck. Other religions allow for more freedom of choice depending on what the family is comfortable using.
Whatever your religion or culture suggests you do with your loved one, it’s essential to know that the choice is yours to make. If you would feel more comfortable seeing the body of your loved one, then consider an open casket service. However, don’t feel pressured into this decision if you have cultural or religious beliefs that say otherwise.
A Decline in the Popularity of Burials
According to the NFDA 2021 consumer study, almost 50% of respondents preferred to cremate their loved ones and scatter their remains over a sentimental place. As the number of Americans no longer identify with established religion grows, so has the process of religious funeral ceremonies and interment.
Included in the above consumer report, over 51% of the respondents also reported being present at funeral ceremonies outside of traditional religious locations. This growing trend away from traditional funeral services has lessened the demand for services such as open-casket viewing.
Save Money on a Funeral by Buying the Casket Online
Funerals are a tough time for all of us, and it can be overwhelming to make all the decisions for the service. Open casket ceremonies are no longer as popular as they once were as the world moves away from religion and embraces the digital age. However, certain religious traditions and cultural preferences will ensure the process will continue for some time forward.
- Library Of Congress: Timeline | Assassination Of President Abraham Lincoln
- Springer Link: Bereavement, Doubt, and the Loved Body: A 9/11 Meditation
- Health Direct: The Physical Process of Dying
- Smithsonian Magazine: When You Die You’ll Probably Be Embalmed. Thank Abraham Lincoln For That
- Green Cremation Texas: Rest In Peace: Here’s How Long A Funeral Home Can Hold A Body Before Burial
- Daily Montana: NFDA Cremation and Burial Report 2021
- NFDA: 2021 NFDA General Price List Study Shows Funeral Costs Not Rising as Fast as Rate of Inflation